The customer isn't always right

The customer isn't always right

Take pity on the PC bargain hunters. If they get treated like I was recently, that is. It all started when I decided to update a well-known piece of Australian-made home workshop equipment.

I'd had my first model for many years, and when the new, improved version was released, I gave in to temptation and decided to upgrade. After finding someone willing to buy the old version, I started price shopping. After finding that the RRP seemed to be $489 (the manufacturer declined to quote an RRP to an end user) I rang the nearby hardware shops. The best price I could find was $469. That equates to a 4 per cent reduction.

Not satisfied, I checked the weekly Trading Post on the Internet ( and found three or four Sydney-based hardware shops offering low prices. The one that boasted the lowest possible price quoted $450, while the next two quoted $445 and $440 respectively.

I then logged onto the manufacturer's site, and left a message asking what sort of street prices I could expect, and if possible, the names of two or three Sydney shops which were known to offer the lowest prices. I got a prompt, courteous reply that told me what the company person had seen in Melbourne. "The lowest I've seen here is $469 from XXXXX." He then gave me the Sydney number for his firm and suggested I ring there for local information.

That's when I got in trouble. The woman who took my call in Sydney told me I was very rude trying to pay any less than whatever my local hardware shop was asking. She added that it was a quality, Australian product, and was well worth the full retail price. She then went on for a couple of minutes to complain about shops that undercut each other, advertised unauthorised discount prices and so on. I explained to her that I largely understood her point of view, but as the buyer, I also had a right to seek a good price.

In the end I went to the closest local hardware store - part of a large chain with a price-matching policy. They said $489 was the list price and $469 was the lowest they'd go. What about their policy? "We don't match stupid prices!"

I then went to the other large store in the district - one of another large chain, also with price matching policy. Without a quibble they matched the $440 price, saving me a one-and-a- half hour return trip to the store that originally quoted that low price. Result: one happy customer. Of course, what I don't know is if they made a profit on the deal.

And all through the exercise I couldn't help but think of the similarity with someone trying to squeeze the last dollar of profit out of a typical computer sale. What a nasty bunch we customers are.

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